Willingness from across the political spectrum to explore critical overdose prevention measures shows that cross-party progress can be made no matter the result of the election, the NZ Drug Foundation Te Puna Whakaiti Pāmamae Kai Whakapiri says.
It comes as the Foundation marks International Overdose Awareness Day by releasing political party responses to its Overdose Prevention Plan (PDF, 251 KB)(see table below).
Sarah Helm, the Foundation’s Executive Director, says that today the Foundation and many others in the sector and community would be remembering the New Zealanders whose lives have been lost to overdose.
Between 2017 and 2021, fatal overdoses rose 51% to 171 people in 2021 – almost double the number of drownings and more than half the road toll that year. Despite this, overdose deaths have been afforded only a fraction of the attention and investment in prevention.
“Every one of those 171 people represents a whānau and a community who are suffering. We ask that their lives are not lost in vain,” says Helm. “Those 171 people’s lives are worth just as much as those lost to drowning or road incidents.”
Helm says as long as drugs are treated as a political football, preventable overdose deaths will continue to increase at an alarming rate.
“The parties’ responses to the overdose prevention measures in our plan show that we can make progress. Enough common ground exists for politicians to get around the table, put aside the politics, and agree on ways that these tragic deaths can be prevented,” she says.
Helm says that the Foundation’s evidence-backed overdose prevention plan (PDF, 251 KB) is full of measures that are ready to be implemented and save lives. These include new overdose prevention services and dedicated response teams, a new Overdose Prevention Taskforce, better data gathering, distribution of overdose reversal medicine, and law reform measures.
“Our plan is informed by what is working around the world and it shows that there is so much that we can and should be doing to prevent these deaths.”
The Foundation asked ACT, the Green Party, Te Pāti Māori, Labour and National to give their response to each measure in the plan. Their responses are below. ACT and Te Pāti Māori did not respond by the deadline.
|Policy/intervention||Won't implement||Unsure||Will consider||We commit to this|
|Pilot an Overdose Prevention Centre in Auckland|
|Pilot an overdose response service, where people who have had non-fatal overdose are followed up to prevent future OD||
|Improve prescribing practice for pain management and opioids.|
|Expand access to opioid substitution treatment (OST)|
|Establish an Overdose Mortality Review Committee|
|Expand the USED (Unidentified Substances in Emergency Departments) programme for early detection of new psychoactive substances – to detect new substances faster|
|Resource research/surveys to provide information about drug consumption, behavioural patterns of use, and harms|
|Government–level planning to ensure preparedness for mass adulteration events and rapid change in illicit supply.|
|Set up a national targeted naloxone distribution scheme. Naloxone reverses opioid overdose.|
|Provide naloxone to all first responders|
|Roll-out of accessible overdose response training|
|Establish ‘Good Samaritan’ laws. These are provisions that remove the possibility to charge a person for drug-related offences when they were assisting someone experiencing an overdose or an adverse drug reaction. This is common practice in other countries.|
|Develop a licensing system to enable harm reduction and overdose prevention measures currently prevented by Misuse of Drugs Act|
|Replace or amend the 1975 Misuse of Drugs Act to prevent overdose fatalities and reduce drug harm.|
Survey participants also reported that barriers to accessing services, resources and information were high.
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95% of respondents reported positive effects, in a study that looked at both prescription and black market cannabis use.